Stone Heights, Colorado: Jericho Ainsley, onetime director of the CIA, lies dying. He has gathered his relatives, friends, supporters and minions to his side for a final goodbye. At the opening of Jericho’s Fall, Stephen L. Carter’s espionage thriller, Rebecca “Beck” DeForde has been summoned to Jericho’s bedside. Ainsley gave up his family and his CIA career (read: big scandal) for Beck some 20 years back; in the years since their relationship ended, they have had but sporadic contact. The word is that Jericho has gone a bit crazy, with paranoid delusions at every turn. Beck, for her part, cannot believe it. She is sure that he is playing for somebody’s benefit, perhaps even hers, but that he’s actually lucid, manipulating the cast like the proverbial pieces on a chess board. So let the games begin: first the dog is killed, then one of Jericho’s daughters; quickly Beck realizes that Jericho is no longer in control of the board. The cell phones die mysteriously, the electricity goes out, the backup generators fail. And then the snipers fall into position one by one. The radical reporter, the stalwart sheriff, the trusted sidekick—any one (or more) of them could be on the opposing team. Nonstop action, twists and turns that rival the winding Colorado mountain roads and a slick surprise wrap-up. Just the thing for the first beach read of summer!

Making the wrong acquaintance
Steve Martini’s Paul Madriani books are staples in the legal thriller genre, starting with 1992’s Compelling Evidence, and continuing through his latest, Guardian of Lies, the title of which is derived from a great Winston Churchill quote: “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” As the book opens, Madriani strikes up an acquaintance with an attractive young Latina. Little does he know that she will soon be his client, charged with the murder of her Svengali-like boyfriend, a rare coin dealer and retired CIA agent. Even less does he suspect that he will be targeted as an accomplice to that murder, and forced into a life on the run, pursued by the San Diego police, the FBI, and Homeland Security. Worse yet, there is one seriously bad guy who will stop at nothing to get the hapless lawyer in his crosshairs. Mix in a conspiracy dating back some 40 years, a hitherto misplaced container of Soviet-era bomb-quality uranium, an elderly and somewhat deranged freedom fighter, and Fidel Castro (whew, take a breath), and you get a relentlessly paced action thriller that transcends the comparatively staid courtroom drama we tend to expect in legal novels.

Cleaning up one big mess
Brett Battles’ new book, Shadow of Betrayal, features “cleaner” Jonathan Quinn, whose job is to sanitize a crime scene, leaving no evidence of a crime having been committed. Quinn works for a shadowy quasi-governmental entity known simply as “The Office,” which seems to be comprised in more-or-less equal parts of CIA and the team from “Mission: Impossible.” This time out, Quinn, lethal girlfriend Orlando and sidekick Nate head north of the border to track the whereabouts of a missing U.N. aide, Marion Dupuis, and her charge, a young West African girl with Down syndrome. Someone has beaten the A-team to the punch, however; when they arrive in Montreal, they find that Dupuis’ home has been torched, her family murdered and Dupuis herself is apparently running for her life. The reader is quickly drawn in, experiencing a good deal of Quinn’s urgency as he zigzags across the country, hot on the trail of Dupuis. The suspense achieves critical mass in an iconic area of Northern California, scene of a high-level summit meeting with international ramifications, and the unveiling of a sinister plot so downright clever it’s a wonder somebody hasn’t tried something similar in real life. Start Shadow of Betrayal early in the day, or be prepared for a later-than-usual bedtime.

Mystery of the month
The Tip of the Ice Pick Award is accompanied by a sad and fond farewell to Donald E. Westlake, who until his death in December had entertained us for years with hilarious crime novels featuring John Dortmunder and his merry men, a band of thieves always on the lookout for the next score. In Westlake’s final novel, Get Real, Dortmunder et al. will portray themselves in a TV reality show; over the course of a season, they will plot a crime and carry it out in front of millions of viewers. Now wait a minute, you might say; if they do this on national television, won’t they get arrested? Never fear; they have that part figured out. They are going to plunder the series production company office. That way, no real crime will have been committed, and the Dortmunder crew will be rich and famous by season’s end. If only. Because, as always, John Dortmunder has an idea to scam the system. He plans to set up a fake heist, which will be the TV subject, and also a real robbery, looting the company’s offsite safe. Of course, when the real crime goes down, Dortmunder and all of his buddies will have unassailable alibis. One corollary of Murphy’s Law, however, suggests that nature sides with the hidden flaw—and that is never truer than with Dortmunder escapades. Anything that can go wrong, does. And with side-splittingly funny ramifications. Get Real is a tongue-in-cheek look at both larceny and America’s love affair with mindless reality TV. Westlake will be remembered for his clever commentary on current affairs, his always amusingly whimsical characters and of course his brilliant depiction of modern-day Robin Hoods robbing from the rich and giving to, well, themselves. Sleep ye well, Mr. Westlake. Donald E. Westlake, 1933-2008

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